What is AIP (autoimmune protocol) paleo?
Updated: Oct 1, 2020
If you have followed my social media posts or my food blog recipes (twinkitchens.com under the AIP section), you will see me mention AIP quite a bit. This is because I have an autoimmune condition called rheumatoid arthritis (RA), which causes inflammation and pain in my joints, especially my hands and hips, as well as other symptoms (fatigue and issues sleeping). When my symptoms first reared their ugly head, I was already eating a paleo diet, but there are foods in the paleo template that can be inflammatory to someone with an autoimmune condition. In my case, I believe that stress was the major trigger for my RA, as overall lifestyle impacts autoimmune issues – diet, stress management, sleep, and movement. At the time we had been dealing with traversing the special needs/medical world, trying to get my daughter’s seizures under control, and focusing on helping her with all her developmental delays. This takes an immeasurable toll on a parent, and my body responded by triggering the RA, which runs in my family, on my mother’s side. For a 1/3 of people, it is genetic, but 2/3 of cases are environmental, meaning all the lifestyle factors I mentioned above. It was a wake-up call to dial my own self-care in more diligently. And although I could easily write a book on this topic, today I am going to discuss the key points.
What happens in the body when you have an autoimmune condition?
What drives the autoimmune condition is the immune system attacking its own tissues and cells, when the immune system is meant to fight infection and foreign bodies. Different conditions depend on what cells and tissues are being attacked. For example, with RA the immune system attacks the joints, whereas ulcerative colitis is an attack on the colon, or the rectum. Certain foods effect the permeability of the gut, and when someone has a leaky gut, this causes the immune system to go into overdrive. The inflammation that results prevents the gut from absorbing nutrients that can help the body heal. The good news is that autoimmune conditions can often be well managed and sometimes reversed with an AIP (autoimmune protocol) paleo diet. For my journey, it substantially improved all my symptoms! If already eating paleo, this transition is a little less challenging, but if eating a Standard American Diet (SAD), this is a change that may take time and professional guidance.
So how does AIP work?
I was already familiar with AIP eating, as we work with many clients who also have autoimmune conditions. Considering that 1 in 6 Americans have an autoimmune condition, and over 1/2 the population is obese, this is not surprising in the obese population we work with on weight loss, as obesity puts the body in a state of constant stress. So, what does eating AIP paleo entail? Below I have listed out the foods that are avoided, many of which are avoided in the standard paleo template itself, BUT remember – the initial elimination phase is a minimum of 30-days (longer if more healing time is needed), and there is an opportunity to reintroduce certain foods later (very carefully and methodically), when you and your body are ready. I have successfully reintroduced quite a few foods, but sadly no nightshade foods, which typically are not reintroduced successfully with joint-related autoimmune conditions. But I must say, I eat delicious, flavorful, healthy food every day, and I love it!
Foods to avoid:
Processed food (which encompasses a few categories below)
Gluten and grains – including corn
Nightshades (eggplant, tomatoes, white potatoes, peppers, and nightshade spices, such as paprika and cayenne pepper)
Nuts - including nut-based oils, and other products made from nuts
Seeds - including seed-based oils and spices, and other products made from seeds, as well as chocolate and cocoa
Processed/refined sugars and oils
Artificial sweeteners, including stevia
Food additives and preservatives, including emulsifiers and thickeners
Coffee (due to the acidity and caffeine)
But don’t dismay, as there are ample foods you can eat. Eating AIP is not just about what to avoid, and I choose to focus on all the amazing food I CAN have. The key is nutrient density, so our bodies have everything they need to heal.
Foods to include:
Bone broth (rich in glycine and important for balancing the methionine in meat)
Organ Meats, especially liver
Healthy fats – including olive oil, avocado oil, and coconut oil
Fermented foods – such as raw sauerkraut, kefir, kimchi, pickles, and kombucha
A wide and colorful variety of vegetables – 8+ cups per day
Beyond the diet:
I cannot stress enough that dietary changes are only one facet of an AIP paleo lifestyle. It is crucial to also focus on getting enough sleep (typically 7 – 8 hours is ideal), managing stress (a mindfulness practice can be extremely beneficial), incorporating consistent healthy movement (walking, yoga, biking, etc), and spending time outdoors. This may mean needing to reevaluate commitments, activities, or even relationships, that are not bringing healthy energy into your life. I have spoken to many people with autoimmune conditions that will tell you that these lifestyle triggers are even stronger for them than dietary ones. This really is an overall lifestyle change, and it can be a lot to tackle, and I recommend working with a professional health coach and your practitioner to find the plan that works best for your transition to AIP. It will be well worth it in the end, so don’t lose sight of that!
In addition to working with a professional, there are also great online support groups, podcasts, blogs, and books that can help with the journey. A few I recommend are:
https://www.phoenixhelix.com/ – the website and podcast are fantastic, and Eileen also has a book called “A Simple Guide to the Paleo Autoimmune Protocol”
https://twinkitchenscom.wpcomstaging.com/aip-recipes/ - this is where I blog AIP recipes as the “Discipline” half of Twin Kitchens
https://shopaip.com/ - AIP foods
https://thrivemarket.com/diets/aip-diet - AIP foods
I wish you well on your own health journey, and we are here if you need us! Be kind to yourself. ~ Jeanna